I recently read Jessa Crispin’s “Why I am not a feminist: a feminist manifesto” – I enjoyed it and found myself nodding along on the train. It is persuasively written and is the perfect antidote to books that promote ‘feminists’ as a life style that can be bought at Urban Outfitters. The main thrust of the ‘manifesto’ is an attack on what seems to be ‘post-feminism’. ‘Post-feminism’, in simple terms it is considered to be a set of assumptions that revolve around the “‘pastness’ of feminism, weather that supposed pastness is merely noted, mourned, or celebrated” (Taska and Negra, 2007, p1). McRobbie explains feminism is “understood to be now widely recognised and responded too”, we can see this in action with the “non-discriminatory policies […] as advocated by New Labour (McRobbie, 2007, p725), policies such as these “suggest equality has been achieved”, (McRobbie, 2004, p255) meaning that “there is no longer any place for feminism in contemporary political culture” (McRobbie, 2007, p720), because it is no longer needed. McRobbie’s presentation of post-feminism shows that feminism is an obsolete movement because its key ideas have now been mainstreamed it claims feminism has been “taken into account” and consequently feminism is now “no longer needed” (McRobbie, 2004, p255). McRobbie identifies this as “double entanglement” (McRobbie, 2009, p12) where feminism is invoked in a positive way, but only in order to show that feminism is now a “spent force” (ibid) – it is therefore a paradoxical state of affairs in which the contemporary popular culture is undermining feminism whilst at the same time apparently being an adequate response to feminism.
This is encapsulated by Crispin arguing that women have fought to be part of the patriarchal system, thinking that this is the solution, rather she contents that women are just becoming part of the system that oppresses them. It can be hard to find an exact definition of postfeminism and this ambiguousness makes it a controversial and prominent feature of culture and politics today. Aronson attributes the use of the term to describe young women who benefit from the women’s movement “through expanded access to employment and education and new family arrangements but at the same time do not push for further political change” (Aronson, 2003, p904). This puts across one of the interpretations of postfeminism as being the death of feminism, because the believed ‘equality’ pertaining to this new cultural climate is a myth but nothing is being done about it.
Crispin talks about the idea that modern/post-feminists hold up the label feminist, but still wa nt to show to men in their life that they are not a threat. I see this as another formulation of McRobbie’s “post-feminist masquerade”
This brings me on to a discussion of the “post-feminist masquerade” McRobbie uses it as the lens to view the positions of gender, and argues that it is the way that masculine hegemony is restored. McRobbie informs us that the hyper-femininity associated with the “post-feminist masquerade” puts women back in the traditional gender hierarchies, it is made to appear as a free choice and thus what is actually a requirement to be feminine and to wear “spindly stilettos and ‘pencil’ skirts” (McRobbie, 2007, p723) is in fact not an obligation, but a desire. So the masquerade works by making it a choice for women to be hyper-feminine and seek to reprise the traditional gender roles. Quoted by McRobbie, Riviere agues that women put on this mask to cover up their desire for masculinity in order to avoid “retribution” from men and to make sure they are not threatening to men, this attitude is typified in characters such as Bridget Jones, or Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, who are perfectly competent but feel the need to adhere to gender stereotypes in order to achieve in the workplace. It is in this argument that we can see how it is regressive from feminism, as it suggests that women will actively avoid putting across the feminist agenda, as they want acceptance from the system that oppresses them. Women must take part in this masquerade in order to be a part of the masculine domains that she was once excluded from. A second aspect to the new contract is to be sexually progressive, yet be in total control of reproduction – in this sense one must, or is at least allowed to, be a sexually empowered “pleasure-seeking subject” (McRobbie, 2007, p732) but also knows not to get pregnant when there felicitous conditions are not met. In doing so young women are allowed to act out the “sexuality associated with young men” (ibid). Which here means occupying the position of the “phallic girl”: a temporary state that allows for heavy drinking, being loud and bold etcetera, yet is only acceptable if there is “renunciation of the possibility of critique of hegemonic masculinity” (ibid).
This is what I consider to the be the main message of Crispin’s work; there is no point being part of the system, we need to take it down from the outside.
McRobbie, A., 2004, Post-feminism and popular culture, Feminist Media Studies, 4(3), pp255-264
Aronson, P., 2003, Feminists or “Postfeminists”? Young Women’s Attitudes toward Feminism and Gender Relations, Gender & Society 17(6) pp903-922